“He came out with that song and that really hurt me because all I did was ever love him, ” Rose said tearfully. “I just loved him so much and gave him a beautiful son. To be told that I was nothing but a stripper, it hurt. So I decided to have this SlutWalk for women who have been through s— like me.”
The word “slut” is a pejorative that’s been used to control women and police sexuality. There’s no clear rubric for what makes someone a slut. Its definition is completely fluid and arbitrary — the better to dehumanize women, to victim-blame and to declare that women who are sluts are incapable of being raped or are somehow deserving of their assault. As Jessica Valenti wrote in 2009’s “The Purity Myth,” a woman “need not be a sex worker to be blamed for her rape; having any sexual history all can do the trick.”
Rose’s methodology for combatting this has been to release a line of T-shirts and shorts emblazoned with words such as “slut,” “thot” and other gendered insults that have roots in sexuality policing. (“Thot” is an acronym that stands for “that ho over there.”)
She and friend Blac Chyna (who has a son with rapper Tyga) attended the Video Music Awards in matching outfits covered in such words in an attempt to rid them of their power to shame and control women.
When Rose raised objections to Tyga dating then-17-year-old Kylie Jenner in a radio interview with New York’s Power 105, her ex, Kanye West, responded. West, who is Jenner’s brother-in-law, said in a later interview with the same show, “It’s very hard for a woman to want to be with someone that was with Amber Rose. I had to take 30 showers before I got with Kim.”
The intention was clear: to imply that Rose lacked credibility because of her sexual history and to suggest that she should be ashamed of it. Rose spent seven years, from ages 18-25, working as a stripper before she began modeling and appearing in music videos. Then she met and began dating West, who was so enamored with her that their breakup inspired what’s widely regarded as one of his best albums, “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.”
Rose has doubled down on her commitment to owning her sexual choices and her refusal to be judged for them. Last month, she released a video for Funny or Die upending the idea of the “walk of shame.”
[The following video contains explicit language.]
None of this, of course, is new. Just take a look at the Washington National Opera’s recently ended run of “Carmen,” a work from 1875 about a woman, who, like Rose, insists on taking partners when she chooses and on her own terms. (But because of the nature of 140-year-old operas, Carmen pays for those choices with her life.)
When Shani Kulture, an associate producer for Hot 97’s “Ebro in the Morning,” raised objections to Rose’s stated goals, he wasn’t just advocating for keeping “he’s a stud/she’s a slut” double standards, which is what co-hosts Laura Stylez and Peter Rosenberg called him out for. He was also reinforcing centuries of cultural hegemony by using women’s sexual histories, both real and imagined, to castigate them as moral failures.
“That’s what she’s trying to do, is say you can call me a slut, you can call me a ho, you can call me a stripper. Call me whatever you want. I am the person that I am and I’m a good person and I’m not letting your words define me,” Rosenberg said.
“I don’t think that it’s okay that she’s trying to take power out of that word,” Kulture said. “I get the point, however, things get lost in translation. She actually does slutty things.”
There are complicating wrinkles to Rose’s protest because of her celebrity. In 2011, SlutWalks grew organically out of a backlash toward remarks by a Toronto police officer that “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.”
The demonstrations radiated throughout the country and the world, with women gathering, often in clothes derided as “slutty,” to protest victim-blaming and a culture that offers reams of prescriptives to women to avoid being raped, but fewer messages aimed at telling people not to rape.
Rose has taken that grass roots idea and branded it. Not only was there an official Amber Rose SlutWalk press conference, complete with a branded logo banner, there was an official SlutWalk after-party.
For $150, Walk participants could purchase a VIP pass. According the Eventbrite description, “The VIP Experience guarantees admission to this event that has limited space, VIP line and VIP tent privileges and preferred access to the stage and performance area.”
Is it strange that this protest was promoted in a way that’s typically associated with club parties?
Usually we see celebrity feminists partnering with larger organizations, such as the United Nations and Emma Watson or the various celebrities who have donated their time and money to Planned Parenthood. In Rose’s instance, however, she created a nonprofit organization of her own and made a GoFundMe campaign to fund the services offered at Saturday’s SlutWalk. The foundation asked for $65,000; it raised nearly $56,000.
Even if Rose’s SlutWalk was born out of altruism, it certainly benefits her in ways that are aligned with capitalism. The “Funny or Die” video and a branded event puts her name in the atmosphere as she attempts to launch an MTV reality show with Blac Chyna. The cable network hasn’t officially confirmed that the show is happening or announced any details about it, which suggests the two are still in negotiations with MTV and Viacom. It also raises her profile in the days before her new book, “How to Be A Bad B—-,” is published.
This is often the rub with celebrity feminism — it’s at odds with and helped by capitalism, which many a feminist theorist has argued is an inherently patriarchal system of power. How do you distinguish between real interest and an opportunist cashing in on a trend? Some would argue that the entrepreneurship and the individualism behind a branded SlutWalk run counter to the ideas of feminism. We seem to be living in a strange, upside-down sort of world, where Rose is an evangelist who shouts her feminism to the world from the bio on her Twitter page, but actress Meryl Streep declines to identify as feminist.
Both women are advocates for gender equality, but in radically different ways.
For Streep, feminism (whether she claims it or not) is arguably just as much a part of her brand as Rose. Streep’s longstanding outspokenness on sexism in Hollywood and her lobbying of Congress to pass the Equal Rights Amendment reinforces her authenticity when we see her playing a role such as Emmeline Pankhurst in “Suffragette.”
Streep benefits financially from her brand, too. She was paid handsomely for her work in “Suffragette,” but her advocacy tends to be thought of as more palatable, more credible and divorced from personal enrichment.
With Rose, things are messier. One of the jobs that pays her bills is club promotion and appearances. With a branded SlutWalk, she appears to be marrying those two endeavors. Her goals are firmly intertwined with a radical representation of sex positivity, one that clearly makes people like Kulture uncomfortable. He wants to retain the right to judge Rose and label her as slutty.
“I feel she’s trying to glorify sluts in general,” Kulture said. “It feels like she’s trying to put girl power behind it to make women feel like it’s okay to be this way. And I understand, be all you want to be, but be it in private. I feel like, if you’re going to put ‘slut’ on your shirt and make it feel like it’s something that is supposed to be acceptable or desensitize the word so that we can all run with it and be like, ‘it’s okay to be a slut,’ I don’t think that’s the message I want to put out there, especially for my daughter.”
Rose is forcing a society that still clings to and hides under a safety blanket of puritanical rigidity to deal with its issues when it comes to the way it judges and punishes women for their sexual choices. Sure, she could do it in a suit instead of marching down the street in lingerie, but a big part of Rose’s goal is to upend distinctions between who is considered “appropriate” and “important” and therefore, worth listening to. And that stems directly from life experience of being dismissed as “just a stripper.”